Do not underestimate the value of crossbreeding
Crossbreeding has been shown by numerous research studies to enhance advantages in growth, longevity and maternal efficiency over straightbred cattle due to heterosis and has been popular among commercial cattlemen since the 1960s. With the growth of the Angus breed and the success of their marketing program, the term “Angus” has taken on a meaning synonymous with quality to consumers. This fact has changed the commercial landscape, with a majority of the American cowherd now being heavily Angus-influenced, and has led some to theorize that crossbreeding is no longer needed and market demands can be met with just one breed.
As you look at profit drivers across the beef industry production chain, there is still value in crossbreeding, especially with Continental breeds. Cattlemen can generally agree that there are any numbers of traits which each breed excels at and will develop a breeding strategy to exploit those traits of economic relevance. The key to the entire system is that crossbreeding must be achieved in a programmed manner using seedstock that are appropriate for the situation.
Profit-minded cattlemen are aware of the advantages of using outcross genetics and breeds to advance their breeding programs. If this weren’t the case, we wouldn’t have seen the increase in value for bulls in major Continental breeds in the past years. Growth in natural and non-hormone treated cattle feeding programs also serves as a driver for a return to crossbreeding since performance, efficiency and yield provided by crossbreeding are needed to maintain profitability when implants, beta agonists and ionophores are removed.
With forced and continued liquidation of our nation’s cowherd, we continue to believe that with much of the commercial cow industry consisting of black-hided, English-based cows, Limousin sires can result in a calf crop that helps through the entire production chain in the beef industry. The resulting progeny will increase weaning weights and produce great replacement heifers with maternal advantages that return dollars to the commercial cow/calf man. Those same feeder cattle will boost feed performance and increase dollars returned to an individual whether it involves running cattle on grass or moving cattle into grower yards or finishing lots.
The improvement in feed efficiency at the stocker, grower and feed yard sectors of the business is apparent on closeouts when cheaper cost of gains and better dry matter conversions are the major factor in determining profitability and staying in business from one year to the next. Those same cattle give similar economic advantage to the packing industry in terms of improved dressing percentages, pounds of useable product, and less waste and fat trim. Producing cattle with superior yield grades, while still having the ability to grade Choice, has tremendous economic value to the cattle business. These advantages are dollars that are reflected in pounds out the back door that make a difference to a competitive packing industry that operates on the economies of scale.
Recently, Tom Brink of JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding gave a presentation to the North American Limousin Foundation’s (NALF) Emerging Leaders Academy entitled “What Feedyards are Looking for in the Feeder Cattle They Buy.” In his presentation, Brink presented that the beef industry currently needs steers that will produce a Choice quality grade carcass that has a Yield Grade less than 3, and to be the most profitable, the hot carcass weight needs to be over 850 pounds. To achieve this, Brink summarized with a breed pyramid put forth by his feedlot managers as, “our recommendation for a good-feeding, good-grading, good-yielding animal is a combination of 25 percent to 50 percent Continental (for example, Limousin) and 50 percent to 75 percent Angus genetics. Those cattle bring the balance needed to succeed both in the feedyard and on the grid.” A majority of these cattle also work in premium programs with an Angus label since a bulk of the Limousin, Simmental and Gelbvieh breeds are black-hided.
Hybrid bulls, such as Lim- Flex, have yielded a solution to the inherent difficulties of maintaining a crossbreeding system. These cattle allow breeders to take advantage of breed complementarity to form a useful and valuable product without the extra difficulties of sorting multiple pastures for crossbreeding. With EPDs and genomic profile tools available for these populations, breeders get the same genetic predictability of a purebred animal with the added benefit of increased fertility and maternal heterosis.
Maternal heterosis is often the forgotten aspect to crossbreeding. Dr. Bob Weaber, Beef Extension specialist at Kansas State University, states that, “Often, producers focus on the trait improvements made through additive genetics for heritable traits like growth and carcass merit associated with increasing the representation of a breed at the expense of the beneficial heterosis effects on lowly heritable traits like reproduction and longevity. The truth is, you can have both with a well-planned crossbreeding system.” The extra longevity, fertility and production in the hybrid cow yield real dollars in the pockets of the commercial cowman.
After mentioning all of the above positive attributes, we need to remember that Limousin cattle are grading better than ever before, particularly Lim-Flex cattle which are being used more heavily in the commercial cattle business. After feeding thousands of cattle in the feed yard business in recent years, we quickly learned that our Lim-Flex feeder cattle were consistently grading between 75-85 percent Choice.
When Limousin breeders addressed the docility issue years ago and began producing cattle with more rib and production traits, a lot of good things came out of that. Cattle that have better temperament are more efficient at the feed bunk, and a side benefit to that is enhanced quality grade. Higher percentage and fullblood cattle can be geared towards branded programs, such as Laura’s Lean and Strauss. Lim-Flex cattle can work in higher grading markets. Due to the availability of marketing opportunities, we still believe that the Limousin breed offers tremendous advantages and diversity to the beef cattle industry.
In summation, we trust that commercial cow/calf producers understand the benefits that crossbreeding offers when making breeding decisions that can increase the marketability of their calf crop and overall profitability. Given the current predicament of continued high feed costs that will most likely not go away soon, the economic drivers that incorporate feed efficiency and pounds of saleable product while still producing high quality beef will be crucial to producers across the nation. As you make breeding decisions, remember the value of a targeted crossbreeding program in your cowherd.
NALF, headquartered in Englewood, CO, provides programs and services, including the documentation of more than 25,000 head of cattle annually, for approximately 4,000 members and their commercial customers. The Limousin breed and Lim-Flex hybrid offer industry leading growth and efficiency while being an ideal complement to British breeds. For more information about NALF, please visit www.nalf.org. — Mark Anderson, Executive Director, and Joe Epperly, Assistant Executive Director, North American Limousin Foundation